Photo creator : Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Meditation reaches into all areas of our lives, profoundly transforming who we are. As previously discussed, it is the art of non-doing. It is intuitive. It is about deep listening. It bears fruit in knowledge and creativity. Now, we look at the related practice of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the active side of meditation.
Meditation lets go of the focus of the conscious mind, mindfulness takes it back up. If concentration is exclusive attention and meditation inclusive, then mindfulness is a way of focussing attention on the particular whilst retaining inclusive awareness.
Chopping veggies for the evening meal is a particular thing requiring attention, especially if the knife is razor-sharp! But that is not all there is to the experience, which can feel like a chore or a joy.
Food and eating - conscious or not?
When we cook a meal with intention or mindfulness, we transform some of nature’s raw material into a human cultural experience. And so a marriage of earth and heaven takes place - through the farming, the production, the distribution, the shopping, the cooking, the eating and the fellowship inspired by the eating. Practical environmentalism and economics link the wider world and the household - for example, were the crops organically grown by a villager or grown by a multinational in a monoculture with artificial fertilisers and pesticides? Did they travel a long way by road, burning fossil fuels, or were they delivered from a backyard around the corner? The home kitchen is an alchemical laboratory which transforms all these inputs, and reinforces a chain of delivery. We can be aware of this background while we slice the carrots!
The Western diet is very meaty, and not too healthy. Is the steak on the plate seen as a one-time cow or is that blanked out? Go further: is a connection made between grazing livestock on cleared forest for slaughter and the effect on greenhouse gases that warm the globe? Every gulp of an Angus Burger is a vote by someone’s oesophagus to prop up the ecological status quo.
A person wolfs down six Tim Tams, loses count, and can’t remember what they were thinking when the Tim Tams disappeared. Why do we eat unconsciously? To bury emotion? The mindful approach is to address the emotional need at an emotional level and use food to nourish the body. How different is a meal eaten in fear from one eaten in calm? How different a meal prepared in grudging haste to one prepared in love? We literally taste the difference.
Mindfulness is all about placing our attention.
Mindfulness is the choice behind and before all choices. The choice to focus. What we focus on reveals what we hold significant. Why and how we focus on a matter reveals our fundamental beliefs. When we focus on negative things we grow negativity in our lives. The same is true with the positive. Each of us is daily host to 60,000 thoughts, and 95% of these are the same or similar to yesterday’s and tomorrow’s. How can we be authentically passive and receptive in meditation without being vigilantly active towards the drift of these 60,000 thoughts?
Our attention grows the causes that shape our thinking, which, in turn, shapes our habits, character and destiny.
The habits sponsored by mindfulness become sacred routines - living rituals - which ground our highest aspirations. Whether they be the rituals of food preparation and consumption, or those of bathing or working or exercising. Rhythm and beauty flower in such rituals. Like a distant melody heard, they sweep co-workers into synchrony, sharing the same purposeful alertness. There is a quality to such experience vastly removed from mindless, anxious doing - from the “busyness” which is a dissipation of energy. Too often, getting “busy” is an escape from oneself, and from the need to see more deeply into a situation and more broadly around it.
Logic versus intuition
This brings us to revisit intuition. IQ tests measure logic rather than intuition. But both types of intelligence are needed for sanity - or mental health. The first blog on this meditation strand pointed out that logic prevents us confusing distinct perceptions and thoughts, while intuition saves us from arbitrarily disconnecting them.
Intuition contextualises a perception or a thought, so we remember its relations to everything else and to the whole.
The universe is pregnant with meaning for the present, intuitive mind. We all notice the black night sky, and usually make nothing of it. But the cosmologically-minded see in the black night sky evidence of a finite universe, with a limit to the age of starlight, and an ocean of invisible radiations. Not bad detective work arising from a simple perception!
Yes, mindfulness shows us the universe in a grain of sand, but it also shows a pothole one should not trip in. The same mindfulness butters bread that performs microsurgery. A difference in degree rather than kind.
There is nothing too small or too large that needs be edited from the experience of the mindful. We are designed to zoom out and zoom in, from big picture to the little picture. For meditation relaxes the focus of the conscious mind, and mindfulness takes it back up.